Saturday, April 5, 2008
My Diet I
Looking back at my health problems, it's easy to see the domino effect. My senior year of high school was incredibly stressful and I suffered from intense headaches. Unfortunately, I discovered Excedrin Migraine, which had the added bonus of caffeine, so I could stay up late studying headache-free! I continued taking it regularly through my freshman year in college, which is when I discovered another stress-salve: cake and ice cream, which the dormitory provided in abundance.
I still can't believe what I ate back then. Sugary cereal in the morning, dessert with both lunch and dinner, and "late night," an a la cart well-stocked with Haagan Daaz, giant muffins, Little Debbies, and soda. Besides gaining twenty pounds, I noticed a gnawing sensation on my side.
Given my daily use of ibuprofen, my doctor suspected an ulcer and just handed me some Prilosec, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). PPIs inhibit acid secretion in the stomach and are used to treat disorders of gastric acid production, such as chronic heartburn, as well as ulcers, since the decreased acidity allows for faster healing.
I didn't follow my doctor's advice and instead stopped taking ibuprofen and tried to improve my diet. I became an almost-vegan and learned to love industrial foods like soy milk and Boca burgers. Unfortunately, I didn't get better and the gnawing sensation turning to searing heartburn and a diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Eventually I had to go on Prilosec.
It worked, but not perfectly. I could feel the creeping acidity in my stomach and I looked and felt bloated all the time. My middle-aged paunchy doctor confided to me that I shouldn't worry, that PPIs were safe and that he himself expected to be on them for the rest of his life. This just depressed me...I was only twenty, I didn't want to be dependent on these drugs for the rest of my life.
A few months later I started having more sinister symptoms, which my doctor ascribed to IBS, which I had been diagnosed with as a freshman. It wasn't until I collapsed and ended up in the ER that I got a real diagnosis: chronic salmonella. I wonder if the PPI use was related. A study connected PPI use with pneumonia, the authors noting "reduction of gastric acid secretion by acid-suppressive therapy allows pathogen colonization from the upper gastrointestinal tract." PPI use is at an all-time high in America, so is food poisoning. Humans evolved an acidic stomach for a very good reason.
Recovering took a long time and I did a lot of research on diets and health. I found this study about low-carb being good for GERD. At the same time I read Jared Diamond's essay The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race for a class and was struck by the idea that while agriculture has led to some progress, it certainly hasn't made us healthier. I started researching the Paleo diet and adopted a modified version of it for the summer.
My basic premise was to eat mostly paleo foods, with a few "agrarian foods" (a la Weston A. Price), and almost no "industrial foods." I'll write more later about my exact diet, but at the end of the summer almost all my symptoms, from headaches to bloating, were gone. Despite increased consumption of fat, I lost a lot of weight. I'm no longer on any medication and while my diet sometimes includes beer and candy, I always operate on the basic premise of eating primarily foods humans evolved to eat.
It's sad that the standard line on GERD is to avoid fat even though there seems to be little documented connection. I was told my low-fat diet of soy milk and rice was the right one. Macronutrients put food into shallow categories, placing radically different foods like coconut and fried chicken into the "evil" high fat label. If only doctors would stop preaching about macronutrients and instead suggest that patients eat real food.